Sunday, May 25, 2003

Pick a story, enjoy the ride

Racing's big day thick with plots

Florida Today

There are lots of storylines in today's Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600. So whether you're a junkie planning to take in all 1,100 miles - like Robby Gordon - or a casual fan who plans to drop in occasionally, here's a guide of what to watch on the greatest racing day of the season:

1. The Andretti factor: Michael Andretti, son of 1969 winner Mario Andretti, is making one last attempt at breaking the family's run of heartbreaking luck at Indy before retiring to concentrate on running his Andretti Green Racing team. At 40, he owns more victories (42) than any other active American open-wheel racer. Only his father and A.J. Foyt have more.

2. Fisher back: Sarah Fisher, the Indy Racing League's most popular driver, made the cut for the fourth time and will try to become the first woman to win the 500. She starts 24th. Though not a likely candidate to win, she has a shot at equaling the best finish by a woman: ninth, by Janet Guthrie in 1978.

3. The Helio streak: Can two-time defending champion Helio Castroneves, one of five drivers to win two straight 500s, do the unthinkable and win for the third straight time?

4. The Roush streak: Roush Racing has sent a driver to victory lane in the last four Coca-Cola 600s. Can Jack Roush make it five?

Roush driver Kurt Busch, the season's only two-time winner and the sport's hottest driver, has as good a shot as anyone to join teammates Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth as a 600 champ. Busch will start 12th.

5. Redemption? Jimmie Johnson led most of last season's Coca-Cola 600, only to see his shot at winning derailed when he slid through his pit, fell back in the field and couldn't make up the distance. Johnson won last weekend's Winston all-star race and has shown a knack for running well at Charlotte.

6. Surviving the grind: At Indy, the pressure comes from performing on racing's biggest stage and for the opportunity to take a swig from the famous postrace bottle of milk.

At Charlotte, the race is NASCAR's longest and forces drivers and crews to plan for an extra 100 miles of racing as well as changing the setup of the cars because the event starts in sunlight and ends under starlight.

"There are guys in other sports who couldn't stand 600 miles at 65 mph on the interstate with two kids in the backseat," Kyle Petty said. "Drive from Charlotte to past Orlando, but do it with the windows rolled up, the air conditioning off and at 190 mph. That makes it a lot more interesting."

Indianapolis 500

When: Noon today.

TV: Ch. 9, 2.

Radio: WCKY-AM (1360).

Coca-Cola 600

When: 5 p.m. today.

TV: Ch. 19, 45.

Radio: WCKY-AM (1360).

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